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Magic not satisfied with just making finals

The team says winning the silver conference trophy is nice, but it's going for the gold.

June 01, 2009|Brian Schmitz

ORLANDO, FLA. — Don't try to sell the Orlando Magic on the notion it is now playing with house money.

The team's players and management aren't buying it.

They aren't buying the idea that since they've exceeded all expectations -- flat-out stunned most experts -- it doesn't matter how things turn out in the NBA Finals against the Lakers.

Just getting to the big stage in L.A. isn't enough for Dwight Howard.

"We ain't finished yet," he said.

General Manager Otis Smith wouldn't even join the team on the Amway Arena floor for a celebration Saturday after Orlando ousted the Cleveland Cavaliers, refusing to touch the silver trophy awarded to the Magic. He wasn't about to wear a souvenir "Eastern Conference Champions" T-shirt and ball cap that the league provided to his players and staff.

Same reason he wouldn't allow champagne in the Magic's dressing room.

"That's not the goal," Smith said.

His players get the message: The ring's the thing.

"You can look at everybody in the eyes in the locker room and tell that we are happy about getting to the Finals, but we are not tremendously happy enough yet," Rashard Lewis said.

"We like winning that silver basketball, but I think the gold basketball will be a little bit better than the silver one."

It's not false bravado. It might not have many believers outside Orlando, but the Magic feels it has proved in the postseason that it is a legitimate title threat. A case could be made that its path has been more difficult than that of the Lakers.

After dispatching the Philadelphia 76ers, the Magic dethroned the defending champion Boston Celtics and eliminated the Cavaliers, who posted a league-best 66-16 record and were led by league MVP LeBron James.

Kobe Bryant and the Lakers knocked off the Utah Jazz and the Houston Rockets before beating the Denver Nuggets to win the Western Conference finals. They'll have home court against the Magic in the 2-3-2 format after finishing runner-up to the Cavaliers for the best record at 65-17; Orlando finished 59-23.

Like Boston and Cleveland, the Lakers are considered the favorites, experts overlooking or dismissing Orlando's 2-0 regular-season record against L.A.

The Magic swept the Lakers for the first time in its 20-year history, defeating them at Amway Arena, 106-103, on Dec. 20 and winning at L.A., 109-103, on Jan. 16.

"We got our work cut out for us," Lewis said. "Nothing is going to be easy. We have to go out there and defend. Just like we faced LeBron, now we got to face Kobe."

The fact that the Magic is evaluating whether point guard Jameer Nelson -- out since shoulder surgery Feb. 19 -- can make an early return speaks volumes: It doesn't want to let this golden opportunity slip away without exhausting all means.

Don't talk to Magic owner Rich DeVos about playing with house money. He didn't know whether he'd even be alive to see his team reach the Finals again.

He was feeling so sickly the first time the Magic made it to the title round, in 1995, that he "hardly remembers it." DeVos had a massive heart attack two years earlier. His ticker was slowly giving out. Then, in 1997, he received a heart transplant, surviving the procedure at 71 years old.

"I was on my way to dying," DeVos said Saturday night. "I should not have been here, but God gave me another chance to behold this night. . . . We're happy, but we're not satisfied. We want to win the championship."


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